Safeway Apologizes, Drops Shoplifting Charges Against Couple, But Sting Still Lingers, And Media Attention is on the Rise

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Hawaii News Now was the first media to break this story. Nicole credits Jim Mendoza's report with helping her get her daughter back from Child Protective Services
Hawaii News Now (which published this photo) was the first media to break the story about the couple being arrested. Nicole Leszczynski credits Jim Mendoza's report with helping her get her daughter back from Child Protective Services.

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – The news about the arrest of Nicole Leszczynski, 28, and her husband Marcin, 33, in the Safeway store on Beretania Street in Honolulu continues to make national and international news ranging from the Washington Post to the London Daily Mail – and it has even caught the attention of Steven Colbert.

The couple, who moved back to Hawaii from California just days ago with their 2 year old daughter Zofia, was arrested last week after forgetting to pay for a pair of sandwiches from the deli, on sale 2 for $5, which they ate before paying for $50 worth of groceries and leaving the store.

Nicole, who is 30 weeks pregnant, snacked on the sandwich because she was feeling faint, and she told Hawaii Reporter that in the small town where she is from, it is not unusual for people to eat something in the store and pay for it on the way out. She even saved the wrapper and a chicken bone that she found in the chicken salad sandwich to show the manager.

Nicole believes that the store employees and security guards were watching them because she said none of the checkout clerks, including their own and the one next to them, responded when she tried to strike up a conversation. The clerk next to them dropped a role of quarters that Marcin helped retrieve, and even then, the clerks did not look at them or say thank you. She thought at the time that it was the “weirdest” Safeway she’d ever been too.

Once Nicole, Marcin and Zofia were three feet out the door, they stopped to organize the groceries so they could get on the bus and go home. It was around 7 p.m. But the security guard stopped them and asked if they had a receipt for the sandwiches. Once they realized they had paid for everything but the sandwiches, they asked to go back into the store and pay the $2.5o for each. But instead, they were escorted upstairs with their toddler to the employee break room where they waited for another 4 hours for police to arrive. During that time, employees milled in and out of the break room and sat at a table with the family, eating their dinner without ever looking up, even though Nicole was “balling her eyes out.”

She said she kept calm for her daughter’s sake – and tried to keep her daughter entertained – until the police told the couple that the store was pressing charges, that they were going to be arrested and that their daughter would be picked up by Child Protective Services until the situation was resolved. When Zofia was escorted down the stairs and out of the store by a child welfare representative, Nicole says she “lost it.”

During that time, and as the situation kept escalating, two police, two security guards and the manager just stood there and looked at her saying nothing, Nicole said. She wondered how far it would go. They found out soon enough.

Nicole and Marcin were arrested, spent about an hour in jail, and were released around midnight on $50 bail. They had signed a 2-page form that Safeway gave them promising not to return to any Safeway for a year, so they could not pick up their groceries without a police escort.

Once they made it home on the bus, they spent the night awake in shock. Nicole said that they called Child Protective Service’s (CPS) abuse hotline continuously starting at 6 a.m. until about noon to get their daughter back.

Frustrated with the lack of response, they called a family attorney and learned troubling news: the state could keep their daughter for up to three business days and even over the weekend, and they would not know where she was, how to contact her or what she was being told. In addition, CPS workers were backlogged and hadn’t returned their calls.

Horrified that they might not see their daughter for several days, they headed down to Child Protective Service’s office in Kalihi where they planned to camp out until they got their daughter returned. On the way, they passed Hawaii News Now, a local television news station, and told reporter Jim Mendoza their story. He went with them to CPS to get some answers.

The little girl, who has never been separated from her parents over night before, had already spent 18 hours away from her parents, her home, her books, and her favorite stuffed animals (a stuffed duck and a Clifford dog). Her parents were very worried about how the toddler would react.

Nicole said it was only because of the news camera in the office that they were able to speak to a case worker. She helped them get their daughter back soon after. The little girl held tightly on to her mother’s neck after her parents picked her up at the designated McDonalds restaurant. She is normally a “great sleeper”, her mother said, sleeping through the night since she was 6 weeks old, but the little girl has woken up every night since asking her mother to hug her and not let go.

A Safeway spokesperson called Nicole yesterday to apologize and said the supermarket chain would not press charges for the loss of the $5 sandwiches, but Nicole said the man who called quickly blamed the police and state for what happened to them after they left the store. He said the employees at Safeway were just following procedure.

Nicole is a former U.S. Air Force linguist and her husband works in the medical field. They lived in Hawaii from 2005 to 2009 in Miliani and Kalihi and never had a problem like this, she said. They loved Hawaii and the people here so much, that they decided after living in California for the last two years, they would like to return and raise their children here in the islands.

The whole experience was unreal, embarrassing and kept getting “more and more sinister,” she said.

A retired policeman told Hawaii Reporter that some others stores here handle shoplifting differently and that they have someone inside the store who can ask about items before shoppers leave the premise, and therefore keep problems like this to a minimum.

There is a backlash against the family now, with comments under the local Star-Advertiser attacking Nicole and Marcin for everything from Nicole trying to use her pregnancy as an excuse to accusing them of being criminals – reactions that surprised the normally private couple.

Others have said they should sue the store, which she said they have not mentioned and have no plans to do.

She’s also taken aback by the national and international interest in her story.

While the couple just wants to put the incident behind them, Nicole said they did learn some lessons and hopefully they will be better people because of the experience. She also looks at it as an opportunity to bring much needed attention to societal problems in terms of how these kinds of situations are handled.

Nicole said that at every step along the way – from the clerks who could have asked about the wrapper in the cart, to the security guard and manager who could have let them pay the $5 after they realized their mistake, to the police who could have arrested them separately so their daughter could stay with one parent over night, to the state keeping the child for 18 hours without responding to the parents – someone could have stepped in to say that this has gone far enough – stop it. But no one spoke up. That, Nicole said, was the most surprising thing of all.

Comments

comments

21 COMMENTS

  1. I support Safeway and feel they should proceed with pressing charges. They stole and that is the bottom line. What makes them so special that they can walk into a supermarket, eat, and forget to pay. Is the husband pregnant too? When they unloaded their groceries from the cart, they didn’t see the wrapper? Why didn’t they place the wrapper with the rest of the groceries? It’s not like she/they ate some of it, they ate it all up like they were having their dinner. Did the daughter eat too? If she was feeling sick, why didn’t the husband let her stay home and he get the food or the husband should of gone into the store first, purchase food, then come out and have the wife eat outside? They have all the excuses, about coming from a small town and that small town allowing them to eat in the store, being 30 weeks pregnant….blah blah…. Now, this should send a message out, that no one should have the right to walk into a food store and feel they have the right to eat a whole meal. This couple should be ashamed of themselves for putting hard-working store employees in this situation and getting this kind of attention. There is no honest mistake to this, they knew exactly what they were doing!! Wondered what they did purchased and how they paid for it? What’s adding another $5 to their bill??

  2. The thing that is most offensive about this whole situation is Nicole’s attitude. She stole the sandwiches and she should be ashamed of herself. If she doesn’t like the fact that businesses prosecute thieves like her, she’s more than welcome to leave Hawaii and never come back. It’s this sort of stinking attitude that Hawaii doesn’t need. They can take their whining back to California. We have enough criminals already – we don’t need them moving here from the mainland.

    • Nicole’s attitude DOES show shame and embarassment, and is in no way offensive. What a joke, with You saying something about Hawaii not needing “stink attitudes” here and they are more than welcome to leave and whatever else you said. Your attitude has been the most offensive, actually. If they are whining, I believe this is a “whinable” incident, let um whine, what’s your problem? there are so many other jerk-offs you could waste your stink attitude and comments on. I’ve worked at Safeway for 14 years, I don’t feel proud of how this was handled and am ashamed it went down like that. Embarassing. Way harsh.

  3. and to add…when the story first broke out, the news said they paid $50 WIC worth of stuff. So does WIC not pay for pre-made sandwiches? So that would explain why she had to go to the store instead of the hubby or is he a boyfriend…becasue she had to be present to get the WIC food. Yes, go back to the small town where people can eat a whole meal, while shopping, and oops forget to pay. What town is that? Maybe I can finally get a free meal, if I visit that small town supermarket!!

    • You talk like a person close to going over the deep end. You might want to seek medical help, as your rage over trivial matters, ones you have no idea about, except from what you read, is quite disturbing.

      I was an employee of Safeway for 30 plus years, and yes people often times do eat food they pick off the shelves before paying for thier groceries. It is not all that uncommon as you seem to think.

      I can also attest the store managers I’ve worked for in my 30 plus years, would never have a couple with a young child in tow arrested over 2 for $5 sandwichs, that could easily have been overlooked, but paid with a reminder from security.

      The last thing safeway or any retail outlet wants or needs, is negative publicity. That is why they have security staff on hand who are supposed to deal with minor matters like this instore.

      If the security staff of this store had been on the ball, and had the couple pay the 5 dollars owing, this story would not be spread all over the internet.
      The manager of this safeway screwed up big time. As did everyone else that were so gung ho in arresting a couple with a young child.

      As it is, the manager of the store through his stupidity, has forced safeway corporate headquarters to get involved over a rediculous $5 special on sandwiches..

      If this manager is able to keep his postition after causing so much negative publicity for his company, he’ll be one lucky fellow.

  4. Re: the couple arrested in Hawaii. Would the Safeway CEO want his daughter or granddaughter be subject to existing Safeway shoplifting policy? Your entire management team from the CEO on down should be held responsible for this fiasco. It was NOT solely the store manager. It IS Safeway’s “climate and culture” that made this happen.

    To remedy the problem the Safeway CEO must immediately approve and post in each store in large letters Safeway’s existing (or hopefully NEW) shoplifting policy. Customers can then decide whether or not to shop in your stores. Should you fail to do this State laws must be changed to compel Safeway policy posting so that this fiasco never ever happens again.

  5. That particular SafeWay has a huge problem with the homeless, hence the strict policy on shoplifting. You really shouldn’t expect anybody working for FoodLand or HPD to have any common sense. The overzealous security guards thought they were doing their jobs, the manager didn’t think period, and HPD — well, they’re HPD. I’m sure a young couple with a 2 year old looked dangerous.

  6. The bottom line, is one doesn’t have to look dangerous to be a criminal. A store shouldn’t have to post anything about breaking the law. All employees and workers did their job and that is stop people who leave the store without paying for items! PERIOD!!! This couple should stop with the crying and whining and accept their wrong doing. They should be the ones apologizing to Safeway. Actually, they should offer to work off the $5 and tax owed by cleaning up or empty trashcans for the store for 45 minutes (since minimum wage is $7.25). That should cover the cost of what they stole.

    • i’ve worked at safeway for 14 years. safeway has handled this type of issue before, and this time they were complete douche-bags to this couple. the safeway i work at, has had many shoplifters and our employees have enough brains to see each incident is not the same. kealajm; nicole DID apologize for their screw-up when it was pointed out and was more than willing to pay.(not just because they got busted) sounds like there are no honest mistakes in your life, i guess you’re pretty much perfect, that must be awesome for you! and i think it’s such a joke when you “feel” for all the hard-working employees who were subjected to this traumatizing experience that is kinda common with our job. so sorry, the couple were the ones who deserve the apology. we get shoplifters everyday, couples don’t get arrested, with a small child taken into cps everyday. it was reported that the employees were avoiding eye contact or not engaging in conversation with the couple as they headed to the register.OMG THAT’S PART OF OUR JOB AND IS REQUIRED BY EVERY EMPLOYEE BY MANAGEMENT AND UP! what’s up with these employees? it would seem the employees hear that “security” is on it, and since grocery stores can be boring, these employees wait with anticipation, avoid making obvious so the couple don’t catch on about the oversight (YES, oversight) and then wait and see for what kind action we can have tonight. SCORE, sick kind action that any one of these safeway employees could have pointed out. no need signs about theft necessary, i agree with you on that. if it’s possible that they did this on purpose, then it’s possible that they didn’t, EQUALLY.

  7. @jayson2 & ainahau..My response is straight from a hard working individual that has enough common sense to pay for something before leaving a store. No I’m not perfect, but damn close to it, to know that you can’t steal or eat a whole meal without paying. You must not be a buisness owner either, cause if you had every pregnant woman steal $5 plus tax and allow them to get away with it after being caught, then you would be out of a business in a heart beat. Maybe you should keep working as an employee cause you obviously don’t understand the value of a business owner and the value of hard-working cash!! Yes, its a big food store chain, but it doesn’t make it right to steal and that is exactly what they did! Safeway or HPD didn’t take their child away, there own actions did that! …”she apologized” yeah..after the fact, easy for anyone to do that after they get caught. If this lady had any feeling that employees were not engaging with her, then she should of used some common sense and figure out why..try look in your WIC/FOODSTAMP cart full of food and figure it out!!!

    • um… WIC? whatever, there was no intent to steal and so it isn’t theft. there isn’t enough here to prove intent. really is there no possibility, in your mind, that it was forgotten? o.k. then it’s just your opinion, and that’s what we all have, many different opinions. right or wrong, fair enough

  8. @jayson2 and ainahau I bet you both are no longer working at Safeway or have been in upper management positions.

  9. kealajm what difference does it make whether they still work there. Nobody knows the store protocols better than them. Maybe your not a parent and don’t understand. I can see a fine, or community service, but book both parents and take the child. NO ALOHA! and thats what the management and clerks displayed at Safeway. In Hawaii we do things different. Some stores policy is to address the customer before they leave. From grassroots to Corporate. Aloha is what sets us apart. Safeway gets International negative press over $5. Yes this story is all over the world. You think Safeway is happy about it? They apologized and dropped the charges. And what! you going convict them in your own court? Auwe! Safeway made it right. Case closed move on. Talk about APEC shitting on these Islands for financial gain.

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